My parents, who have been married for 29 years, spent the beginning of their relationship separated by the state of Indiana. At the time, my father had a full-time teaching job in central Illinois, and he met my mother in Cincinnati. This didn’t deter the lovebirds in the slightest. Every other weekend, my mother and father would meet in Indianapolis, Indiana, the certified halfway point between them.
Long before texting, Facetime, and location sharing came into existence, my parents made a long distance relationship work. As I have now unintentionally followed in their footsteps, I sometimes regret idolizing their romantic tale so much as a child. Other times, though, I see their love and know that their foundation is strong because they used the miles that kept them physically apart as a cement to bond them emotionally together. I’m using the same strategy with my fiancé.
I met my soon-to-be husband, Jack, on a dating app while studying abroad in London, England. He serves in the Royal British Army as a musician, and yes, if you were wondering, his accent did and continues to make me swoon regularly. My time abroad was filled with pub dates, walks along the Thames River, and stolen kisses in Hyde Park. It was truly my own little fairytale, until it wasn’t.
When I went to London, my end goal was not to leave with a boyfriend, especially one who would have to stay behind. My goal was to engage in a new culture, carry myself with confidence, and have one of those “I can’t believe that just happened” kind of adventures. Looking back, I can see that I did experience all of that, but nothing quite encompasses these desires as well as my time with Jack has.
We’ve been together for two years now, and more than half of that time has been spent 4,000 miles apart. Many find issue with this, especially when considering our upcoming nuptials, but let me assure you, the distance on its own has never caused me to pause and question the status of our partnership. If anything, I think the distance has been good for us.
I was 20 years old and beginning my junior year of college when I met Jack. I was young, idealistic, and incredibly naive about the inner workings of the world. I’ve grown up while being part of this relationship — while apart, Jack and I each have had time to make our own mistakes and live our own lives while simultaneously being involved in each other’s stories.
Distance allowed us the freedom to find ourselves at our own pace and in our own way without the incidental pressure that often accompanies commitment. We found that our love grew stronger because we were also growing as individuals — and made sure to stay in touch about the experiences that were transforming us.
So, how have Jack and I made it work for so long over such a great amount of distance? The simple answer to that question is the classic and overused phrase, “communication is key.” Even when living in the same time zone, we have never been the couple that feels compelled to spend every waking minute talking to the other person. Neither of us loves talking on the phone and our schedules do not allow for long, flippant conversations. Therefore, our special trick to success has been intentionality.
Each week, Jack and I lay out one or two days, depending on the workload we are facing, and set aside 90 or so minutes to Facetime one another. Our conversations during this time are free to take on any shape we desire, but we always make sure they end with an “I love you,” even when the topic of choice isn’t the most uplifting. Regularly seeing and hearing those three words spoken is truly paramount. If for whatever reason one of us is having a particularly complicated week and we can only speak together for half an hour, it does not have a significant effect on the health of our relationship. I believe that if we went multiple weeks without physically seeing or hearing a declaration of love, however, we would presently be in a completely different situation. You can read words of affirmation all day long, but at the end of the day, seeing someone’s face speak the words aloud to you holds an entirely different meaning.
Intentionality, though important, is not always a reality. While most of our conversations go best when planned out in advance, we both know that spontaneity cannot always be avoided, especially when dealing with conflict. There can be beauty in spontaneity, such as a surprise letter or gift sent in the mail to celebrate one another’s successes, or a casual phone call to remind your partner how much they mean to you. Of course, like anything, though, too much of a good thing can become overwhelming, so neither of us try to make a habit of it.
When disagreements or tensions arise and we need to make immediate time for each other, we both prioritize our relationship and the conversations that need to be had. If we didn’t, quite frankly, I would not consider our relationship to be sustainable. All that said, we both have to be honest about our communication expectations to ensure that we are being respectful of the other person’s desires and time constraints.
Being so far apart means that, on average, Jack and I only see one another in person every couple of months. When we get these gifts of time together, both of us used to feel a large amount of pressure to pack every moment with activity. At the beginning of our relationship, this was fine, but as our partnership has matured, we both have realized the importance of taking a step back and sliding into a “normal” phase with one another as soon as we can.
Much of our life is soon going to change when we get married and can live under the same roof for the first time. We will need to learn to have a new kind of patience with each other — the patience of sharing everyday life together. Instead of constantly filling our time together with distractions via weekend getaways and tourist-attractions, we now spend our time grocery shopping and going to the gym. It’s a different type of adventure, and it’s helped us see that we not only can live as a unit, but that it’s soothing to share the mundane.
As time has gone on, and especially now that I have completed my degree, my ambivalence about distance is beginning to deteriorate. Every time we want to see one another, someone has to pack a suitcase, get on a plane, and fly across an ocean. I love traveling and adventure, but I’m ready for stability and consistency. Seeing the world with your partner is much more fun when you get to fall asleep on their shoulder during the overnight flight.
I don’t always like the distance between Jack and I, but it’s our current reality. I am looking forward to the day when Jack and I say, “I do,” and put this chapter of our lives to rest, but I will only ever look back on it with endearment and appreciation for the ways it has helped us grow.